Introductory Note:

“In my experience,” writes Brennan Manning, “self-hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit.”

In this excerpt from Celebration of Discipline—if you have the book, the entire chapter on submission is worth a re-read—Richard Foster explains why Jesus’ call to self-denial has nothing to do with self-hatred.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Celebration of Discipline

The touch­stone for the bib­li­cal under­stand­ing of sub­mis­sion is Jesus’ aston­ish­ing state­ment, If any man would come after me, let him deny him­self and take up his cross and fol­low me” (Mark 8: 34). Almost instinc­tive­ly we draw back from these words. We are much more com­fort­able with words like self-ful­fill­ment” and self-actu­al­iza­tion” than we are with the thought of self-denial.” (In real­i­ty, Jesus’ teach­ing on self-denial is the only thing that will bring gen­uine self-ful­fill­ment and self-actu­al­iza­tion.) Self-denial con­jures up in our minds all sorts of images of grov­el­ing and self-hatred. We imag­ine that it most cer­tain­ly means the rejec­tion of our indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and will prob­a­bly lead to var­i­ous forms of self-mortification. 

On the con­trary, Jesus calls us to self-denial with­out self-hatred. Self-denial is sim­ply a way of com­ing to under­stand that we do not have to have our own way. Our hap­pi­ness is not depen­dent upon get­ting what we want. 

Self-denial does not mean the loss of our iden­ti­ty as some sup­pose. With­out our iden­ti­ty we could not even be sub­ject to each oth­er. Did Jesus lose his iden­ti­ty when he set his face toward Gol­go­tha? Did Peter lose his iden­ti­ty when he respond­ed to Jesus’ cross-bear­ing com­mand, Fol­low me” (John 21: 19)? Did Paul lose his iden­ti­ty when he com­mit­ted him­self to the One who had said, I will show him how much he must suf­fer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9: 16)? Of course not. We know that the oppo­site was true. They found their iden­ti­ty in the act of self-denial. 

Self-denial is not the same thing as self-con­tempt. Self-con­tempt claims that we have no worth, and even if we do have worth, we should reject it. Self-denial declares that we are of infi­nite worth and shows us how to real­ize it. Self-con­tempt denies the good­ness of the cre­ation; self-denial affirms that it is indeed good. Jesus made the abil­i­ty to love our­selves the pre­req­ui­site for our reach­ing out to oth­ers (Matt. 22:39). Self-love and self-denial are not in con­flict. More than once Jesus made it quite clear that self-denial is the only sure way to love our­selves. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who los­es his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).

Again, we must under­score that self-denial means the free­dom to give way to oth­ers. It means to hold oth­ers’ inter­ests above our inter­ests. In this way self-denial releas­es us from self-pity. When we live out­side of self-denial, we demand that things go our way. When they do not, we revert to self-pity — “ Poor me!” Out­ward­ly we may sub­mit but we do so in a spir­it of mar­tyr­dom. This spir­it of self-pity, of mar­tyr­dom, is a sure sign that the Dis­ci­pline of sub­mis­sion has gone to seed. This is why self-denial is the foun­da­tion for sub­mis­sion; it saves us from self-indulgence.

Excerpt from Fos­ter, Richard J. Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline: The Path To Spir­i­tu­al Growth (pp. 113 – 114). Harper­Collins. Kin­dle Edition.

Text First Published December 1977

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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